Oatly’s offbeat marketing turned boring alt-milk into a $10-billion business

“Oatly has crossed the line from hip to basic,” Bloomberg food reporter Deena Shanker recently declared on Twitter. That may be a diss, but it’s also a testament to the 27-year-old Swedish oat-milk company, which counts Oprah, Jay-Z, and Natalie Portman among its investors. When you’ve got an upcoming IPO with a rumored valuation of $10 billion, who needs cool anyway?

Oatly has been around since 1994, when Swedish food scientist Rickard Öste developed the dairy substitute while researching lactose intolerance at Lund University. But the brand started making a real splash after CEO Toni Petersson took the helm in 2012. Petersson led a redesign of Oatly’s packaging and advertising. The company’s updated vibe—quirky-yet-progressive, with slogans like “No milk. No soy. No badness.”—proved appealing to three oft-overlapping demographics. Environmentally conscious consumers like that Oatly is vegan, uses less land, and produces fewer emissions than dairy milk. Foodies enjoy its creamy texture in their lattes. And youthful types are drawn to brands that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Today, Oatly also sells oat-based ice cream, yogurt, and whipped-cream substitutes, and its products are available in 20 countries. The brand made the jump to the US in 2016 by partnering with hip coffee shops like Intelligentsia and La Colombe, and after deploying a similar strategy in Hong Kong in 2016, has since expanded to mainland China. (Oatly also landed in US Starbucks locations this year.) Oatly’s global sales hit $200 million in 2019, up 82% year-over-year. The company expected sales to double in 2020, though it has not yet disclosed final figures.

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